Senate Democrats finally broke a Republican filibuster of legislation to extend unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans. Colleagues gave Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.V.) credit for making the difference, who cast his first vote Tuesday to advance the extension to final passage just hours after being sworn in.
“What was glorious is that the very first vote that he had to cast, he cast to make unemployment compensation available to over 2.5 million Americans and their families, and he was that 60th vote,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) says of his new colleague, who took the seat made vacant last month with the death of the longest serving senator, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.).
After weeks of Republicans blocking the bill, Democrats moved their extension to a final vote with the minimum 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster. With the filibuster broken, Democrats now must bring the extension up for a final vote, which could come Wednesday.
Approving the extension became critical as millions of Americans had begun losing their benefits, which many rely upon to keep their heads above water while searching for new work. In particular, the number of those Americans jobless for six months or longer is at a level not seen since World War II.
“I could not feel more privileged than I do to have taken my first vote as a member of the United States Senate, have it be a vote that helps millions of Americans — and over 12,000 West Virginians — who are still looking for work as the economy continues to turn around,” says Goodwin, who will serve just four months until a November special election to fill the remaining two years of Byrd’s term. Goodwin’s former boss, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, has announced that he will run in that election.
Although the 36-year-old Goodwin was lauded for the role he played, in truth the difference came from Maine’s two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, changing their votes and deciding to buck their party.
Both of their votes were required because, as usual, conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska crossed over to join Republicans to support the filibuster.
In his remarks following the cloture vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave Snowe and Collins their due.
“Today was the eighth time Republicans overwhelmingly said ‘no’ to America’s unemployed.
“The only difference is that today, we finally had exactly enough Senators who wanted to say ‘yes.’ I’m grateful to Senators Snowe and Collins, and the people of Maine should be proud of their Senators today,” Reid says. “We’re happy to have Senator Goodwin here, and I know he was eager to cast his first vote as a United States Senator for this urgent, important measure for our nation.
“But it shouldn’t take a supermajority to help families afford the bare necessities while unemployment is rising. It shouldn’t take the slimmest of margins to do what is right,” Reid adds. “We’ve seen our constituents fight through this crisis. They haven’t given up, so we couldn’t give up either. That’s why we kept pushing, and that’s why we’ll keep fighting for them.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.